Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Dressage Judge


Iris Drone was acknowledged to be the leading dressage judge in Area 82c.

She discreetly modelled herself on the late and much-lamented Queen Mother. This was reflected in well-cut day dresses in pastel shades, big hats and vivacious smiles.

Her piercing eyes and head tilted quizzically to one side made every listener think they were the only person in her world for the duration of any conversation.

Combined with a tinkling laugh, theatrical language and a fondness for a glass or several at lunchtime, the effect was complete: the nation’s favourite granny had been cloned.

Iris and her sister Joan lived comfortably in the family home, White Boards next to the church in Lower Steam, with their treasured pets, the ageing and spectacularly flatulent spaniels, Carl and Spencer.

The year was punctuated by each season’s main competitions, area festivals and championships with occasional forays into
Europe, to Aachen or to catch the Sunshine Tour.

Much as Iris loved holding court in pavement cafes abroad for a gaggle of her "dear dressage boys", her main concern was maintaining her pre-eminent position as the doyenne of judges in the locality.

In this process it did her reputation no harm to mention sharing a small expresso before competition in
Seville with "darling Pammy" - "a marvel and such stamina" – or "young Laura" – "destined for great things, you mark my words".

In reality, however, Iris stayed at the top by sheer hard work and availability. Her diary was crammed with affiliated competitions, training seminars and courses, but Iris always found time to fit in an unaffiliated comp at one of the riding clubs in the area.

All it took was a ‘phone call with a promise of petrol expenses and a bottle of Jacobs Creek and Iris would fire up the Nissan Micra, load the dogs and be on her way.

One exciting and unpredictable feature of Iris’s judging, particularly after a good luncheon in the Committee Room, was complete fearlessness in punishing any perceived breaches of the rules.

A rider thought to utter a word to the horse unfairly to obtain extra lengthening in the free walk, would be stopped instantly by the irritable tinkle of Iris’s tea bell, lectured loudly at length and penalised heavily.

Competitors grew accustomed to Iris’s various little ways. She loved fine-boned thoroughbreds with elastic but regular paces and had no time whatsoever for muscular warm bloods.

It didn’t do at all even to get her started on coloured horses or, "Lord preserve us", cobs.

Similarly, dressage riders should preferably be slim and presentable young persons and ideally, ladies. For Iris it was "a question of aesthetics" and she could "not abide a portly rider or horse".

The strength of Miss Drone’s views on such matters made life a trial for her writers.

Quite often Iris waxed so eloquently upon the lumpen quality of a particular combination that two or three movements could go unmarked.

In such cases her more experienced writers, notably the invaluable Bathsheeba Wilkins, would guess specific marks and devise comments in keeping with the general tenor of the judge’s mood.

Iris never noticed and no-one ever complained.


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